Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Half Dozen Non-photo Books (for your pleasure)

Here is part one of a barrage of books with short descriptions, this time mostly non-photographic ones I have enjoyed over the last half a year. Yes I have a great number of non-photo books and although I stand by the statement that photographs work best in book form and that most all other mediums suffer to an extent in reproduction, these are well done and worth a look.

Starting with the most popular artist of all time, Warhol from the Sonnebend Collection published by the Gagosian gallery in 2009 (distributed by Rizzoli) is a beautifully produced oversized book of mostly early work (1962-65) that Ileana Sonnebend collected while she represented Warhol to Parisian audiences.

The Gagosian gallery has been publishing a lot of very impressive books, all of which appeal in design and quality. This publication comes in a cardboard slipcase upon which is silk screened to look like a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes. After presenting about 50 works the back section of the book delves into the history of the exhibitions held at Sonnebend's Paris gallery. As a bonus, facsimile reproductions of each gallery catalog and booklet published for each show are slipped into glassine holders.

Also included are dozens of photographs taken during the exhibition openings and a great essay by Brenda Richardson describes the complicated relationship between Andy, Leo Castelli and Ileana Sonnebend during his rocketing to fame.

Gerhard Richter's Elbe from Walther Konig and the Gerhard Richter Archive in Dresden concentrates on 31 monotype prints Richter made in 1957. These constitute some of his earliest works as a recently graduate from the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste. He had enrolled in a class for printmaking, he found a disinterest in proper technique and instead spent his time trying out unevenly applied ink on linoleum and wooden blocks.

Many appear to be abstractions while others offer a direct reference to landscapes - some moonlit. In a couple, Richter has penned in figures so the unevenly distributed ink comes across as an atmosphere or haze - something his later work would reflect.

Elbe is softcover and employs a very deadpan design - a straightforward presentation printed on very nice cream-colored stock. A short text by Dieter Schwarz lends insight into Richter's method and motivation.

Sol Lewitt once said that "Artist books are not valuable except for the ideas they contain." I wish that were true today as I would be able to afford his Autobiography and Cock Fight Dance. This book from Edizioni Viaindustriae is a study of Lewitt's complete bibliography of artist books from 1967 to 2002. Although well illustrated, it doesn't go as far as to discuss each individual book - most of which are confined to a single page of coverage. Still, it is a good reference work sure to spawn further exploration into these fine books.

Andrew Dodds' Lost in Space is a small artist book from Bookworks from 2006 which sets out to examine what artifacts were left behind on the moon by the Apollo space projects. He corresponds with scientists, lecturers and heads of physics departments asking what they imagine these objects would look like today after such a long time abandoned on the moon's surface. Complimented by archive photographs and other supporting historical material, it is Lost in Space's design which makes for additional enjoyment. Now if only someone would inform Dodds that the moon landing was faked!

Another book which is based upon historical fact is Jeremy Deller's The British Civil War Part II published by Artangel in 2002. This book documents two things, first the personal accounts of participants of the 1984-85 miners' strikes in Northern England, and second, Deller's reenactment of the confrontation between the strikers and the police in Orgreave in South Yorkshire in June of 1984 - over 800 people participated in this reenactment. Less an attempt to tell the definitive history of the strike or that day but taking the idea of a 'living history' and exploring how that can be interpreted and presented over something that was essentially chaos. The British Civil War Part II contains lots of archive material along with a DVD of present day interviews of people who were in Ogreave that day in 1984.

Lastly I want to mention a new book on Josef Albers' Homage to the Square just published by Editorial RM. Made on the occasion of an exhibition at the Casa Barragan. Albers saw this group as "platters to serve color" which attested to the infinite possibilities of hue and light - colors influencing change on one another. This edition is elegant with a sturdy slipcase out of which comes a small but very nicely conceived book of plates. Accompanying are essays by Nicholas Fox Weber and Brenda Danilowitz, both from the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

I will be serving up another six titles in this vein in just a few days.